Michelangelo’s Haunting Uncertainty

by | Mar 15, 2019 | Church Planting

For years I’ve had to take a deep breath whenever anyone asked me what I did for a living.  I knew that as soon as I’d say anything about helping to see new churches started, I’d receive a patronizing and dismissive smile– and I’d be relegated to some dustbin of irrelevance.  It took me a while to come up with a helpful response.

I now start by saying, “I’ll only tell you what I do if you give me a chance to tell you why I do it.”  That usually cracks the door open long enough for me to make a run at the subject.

I now start by saying, “I’ll only tell you what I do if you give me a chance to tell you why I do it.” That usually cracks the door open long enough for me to make a run at the subject. Click To Tweet

Now that I’ve got the listener’s attention I talk about how we live in a hope-starved world.

When their head nods—as they invariably do—I say, “I work to bring hope for the here and the hereafter.”   People tend to get that.  I tell stories of how our new churches in Converge are serving their communities in unusual ways.  I say, “I have a front-row seat, seeing people bring hope to a hope-starved world”.   Of course, we bring hope for the hereafter as well.  So I talk about how most people live without certainty for the life to come, and how that was my story once.  And then I remark that people don’t have to play a guessing game about heaven.

Last week we were in Italy.  We were doing some speaking at some events, but we spent about four days doing Rome.  Of course, we got to the Vatican Museum (too many statues!), and we meandered through, finally, to the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo painted his ceiling masterpiece back in the 1500’s.  I’d prepared with some reading and podcasts, so I knew some of the story.  Michelangelo did a lot of his work because the Pope had him in a headlock.  He was forcefully persuaded to make art, including that of the Chapel.  After the ceiling was finished, Michelangelo was “asked” to paint a scene behind the altar.  It’s there on the wall.  It’s called “The Final Judgment”.   It’s a cacophony of angels, demons, saints, the saved, and the damned.  It was Michelangelo’s final great work.

Here’s why I tell you that story:  Michelangelo was uncertain about his final destiny.

Look at the painting, and you’ll see his self-portrait, on the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew.  If you’re interested, see this link: http://www.italian-renaissance-art.com/Last-Judgement.html, and scroll down to the part where St. Bartholomew holds his own skin.  Art historians assure us that we see Michelangelo there, somewhere between heaven and hell, entirely uncertain of where he’d spend eternity.  Wow.

Church planters:  you have the hope of eternity.

You have this promise:  “He who has the Son has life” (I John 5:12).  You are encountering people daily—even religious people—who need that hope.  Don’t stumble to explain what you do.  Tell people that you’re bringing hope for the here and the hereafter.

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Tom Nebel

Dr. Tom Nebel is the Director of Church Planting for Converge Worldwide (formerly the Baptist General Conference), a position he accepted in 2006. Prior to that (1992-2005) he served as Director of Church Planting for the Great Lakes Baptist Conference and Associate Director of TeAmerica. He has participated in the planting of more than 50 churches in Wisconsin and hundreds of churches across the United States, currently experiencing a success rate of over 85%. His passion is to fuel regional church planting movements so that they may be effective in expanding the Kingdom of God. Read More About Tom Nebel At His Author Page. Also be sure to follow Converge Church Planting on Twitter & Facebook.